How to Hire a Contractor for Your Home Renovation

So you have decided to jump in head first to your home renovation project, great!

You are well on your way to creating an amazing space, but you are going to need some help.

Unless you are an electrician, plumber, or general contractor yourself, are likely going to need to hire a contractor for your project. But where do you start? Follow these steps to make sure that you hire the right contractor for the job.

Find Contacts and Get Recommendations

Take recommendations from family and friends on contractors that they know and have worked with. Search industry association listings like NARI – National Association of the Remodeling Industry for registered contractors in your area. Check out contractor resource websites such as Angie’s List or HomeAdvisor, where users can rate and review contractors. Also consider visiting local hardware or lumber supply stores and ask for recommendations of contractors who they work with regularly.

Make Contact and Ask Questions

Now that you have your contact list, it is time to start talking to the prospective companies. Arrange a phone call interview to ask initial questions. Find out how long the contractor has been in business, ask if they are fully licensed and insured, ask what industry associations they are registered with. Find out what other projects they have done that are similar to the size, cost, and scope of what you want to do. Ask for references for those projects and a list of previous clients. Ask how many projects the contractor is currently working on. Follow up with an email for any further questions. A professional contractor should be able to answer all of your questions and respond to follow up in an appropriate amount of time.

Have an On Site Meeting

Narrow down your list of prospective contractors to 3-4 and arrange for an on site meeting. Discuss the project details, layout, the type of materials you have in mind. This meeting is to help the contractor formulate an estimate, but also to observe how well you interact and communicate with each other. During this process you are interviewing these contractors for a job and all interaction you have with them should be taken into consideration when you make your decision on who to hire.

Get Estimates

Following the on site meeting, your contractors should be able to provide you with an estimate for the project. Ask them to itemize expenses including materials, labor, permit costs, and any other expenses. Don’t be alarmed by material costs that seem inflated, typical contractor mark up will be between 15-20%. The estimate should also include information about a payment schedule. Be cautious of contractors who ask for 50% or more of the total cost upfront. Payment plans should outline no more than 30% upfront, with 2 – 4 payments spaced out through the duration of the project and the final 10-20% payment coming when the project is complete. Keep in mind that the lowest estimate isn’t always the best choice, especially one that comes in much lower than the others. Low ball bids often cut corners and use cheap materials, sacrificing quality for savings. Also beware of any contractor who advises you not to submit for a building permit with your local agency. Authorizing non permitted work can leave you liable and unable to make home insurance claims and may affect the value of your house.

Do Your Research

Now is the time where you need to thoroughly research the companies. Call the references that the contractor provided and ask about their experience. Did their project complete in budget and on time? Was the contractor clean and respectful of the space? You may even want to visit a project that the contractor is currently working on. Take note of the general organization of the site, the professionalism of the crew and how efficiently they are working. This is also the time when you will want to check in on the contractor’s records and confirm their insurance coverage. A call to their insurance agent should provide the information you need to make sure the contractor has current liability insurance. Check with the Better Business Bureau for any complaints filed against the company.


Sign the Contract

Once you have finished your research and decided on which contractor to use, it is time to put it in writing. Your contract should include written documentation of all details of the project including payment terms, liability insurance coverage, specific project dates, materials and products to be used, and the detailed scope of work for the project. The contract should also stipulate that a lien release be signed by the contractor and all subcontractors after the completion of work. The lien release confirms that the contractor has been paid in full for work completed. Read the contract thoroughly and ask questions or for clarifications as needed. Do not sign a contract with blank spaces or with terms or details that you do not agree with or understand.

Monitor the Work

Congratulations, your contract is signed and your project is underway! There are still a few things you should do while the work is happening.

Take pictures and written documentation – this material can help protect you in the event of a liability claim or issues with the contractor.

Stay on target – try not to make many changes or adjustments to the original plan. Changes will almost always mean more money and more time. If you have to make changes, make sure they are added to the contract as written change orders and signed by both you and the contractor.

Communicate – continue to keep the line of communication open between you and the contractor. Have them keep an updated schedule for you on which days and times they will be working, making note of days where there will be excessive noise or a shutdown of utilities.

Inspect – continue to monitor and check on each aspect of the project, making sure that the work is being done according to the contract and to your liking. Bring up issues with the contractor immediately and develop a plan to correct them.

Finalize the Job

Carefully inspect the job site and make sure that work was completed before you make your final payment. Make sure that the contractor has removed all of their equipment and any trash or extra materials that you do not want (at the same time, make sure that the contractor gives you the option to keep any materials that you have paid for). Sign the lien release with the contractor. If you had a good experience, consider writing a review for the company on Yelp, Angie’s List, or other business review sites you might use.

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